RANGERS (24-12-4) at BRUINS (23-15-6)
TV: NHLN-US, TVA, SN360, SNO, MSG, NESN
BOSTON -- Winners of four straight games, the Boston Bruins look to stay hot against the New York Rangers, who are coming off a 3-0 loss to the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders.
The major topic of conversation concerning the Bruins remains the future of breakout rookie David Pastrnak. Since his recall from Providence in the American Hockey League, the 18-year-old has played a key role, logging top-line minutes and scoring two goals in each of his past two games to help the Bruins defeat the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Following the game Thursday, the Bruins must decide whether to keep Pastrnak and burn the first year of his entry-level contract, or send him back down to the AHL. So far, no decision has been reached.
"You weigh the pros and cons, you talk about all the different things, you know," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Whether you can sustain it, if not what's our plan. Again, we've seen the really exciting part of David. I think he's really excited us all and then we should be from watching him play, it's encouraging. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Knowing there may be bumps along the way, so we weigh those things, and at the same time we project him staying here or not staying here, where's he going to be, those are all conversations we have."
Julien remained tight lipped about the specifics of Pasternak's future, but Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron offered up some free, simple advice for his young teammate: Just keep playing his game.
"He's been so good since the first time we've seen him, I think he just keeps improving," Bergeron said. "I think he's just one of those guys that wants to get better, so I told him just to enjoy it. It goes pretty fast, so it's about soaking everything in and being in the moment, and so far he's been great."
Though Pastrnak's flashy play and contract question continues to dominate the headlines, the Bruins defense, which limited the Lightning to 19 shots on goal Tuesday, has quietly provided a boost. After missing 19 games because of a knee injury, Zdeno Chara seems to have found his game again, and the rest of the defense with him.
"You look at Zdeno coming back and finding his game," Julien said. "We talked about [Adam] McQuaid yesterday, two veteran players that you put in your lineup that are big, strong and are extremely good defensively, so that certainly helps. Tuukka [Rask] has really been good the past couple weeks here."
Facing MVP candidate Rick Nash and the rest of the Rangers' dangerous offense, Boston's defense and goaltending will need to keep sharp to prolong its winning streak. Forward Derek Stepan's status remains unclear after he sustained an upper-body injury against the Islanders, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday it was unlikely he would play.
The Bruins are anticipating a tough game against the Rangers, with or without Stepan in the lineup.
"It's a real strong team," defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "The lineup, it's a good mix between size and skill and speed, and the D's are very active, so it will be a good challenge tonight."
Here are the projected lineups:
Milan Lucic - David Krejci - David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Craig Cunningham
Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg - Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug - Kevan Miller
Scratched: Matt Bartkowski, Jordan Caron
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - J.T. Miller - Martin St. Louis
Carl Hagelin - Dominic Moore - Lee Stempniak
Tanner Glass - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Kevin Klein - Matt Hunwick
Scratched: John Moore
Injured: Derek Stepan (upper body)
Status report: Marchand returned to practice Thursday after taking a maintenance day Wednesday ... Goalie Talbot will start for the Rangers.
Who's hot: Nash had five points in five games prior to the Rangers' loss to the Islanders. St. Louis has four points in his past four games … Lucic has six points in his past four games. Krejci has five assists in his past four. Krug has five assists in his past four games.